3 British Soldiers Killed in Southern Afghanistan

Insurgent attacks killed three British soldiers in
the southern Afghanistan region where thousands of U.S. Marines
pushed forward with the American military's biggest anti-Taliban
offensive since the hard-line Islamist regime was toppled.

The British deaths came as gunmen in the east abducted 16
mine-clearing personnel working for the United Nations.

A soldier from the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards died in an
explosion while on a foot patrol near Gereshk in Helmand province
Sunday, the Ministry of Defense said. In the same area Saturday, a
rocket-propelled grenade killed one soldier and a roadside bomb
killed another soldier, the British Defense Ministry said Sunday.

A total of 174 British personnel have died in Afghanistan since
2001.

The attacks underscore the dangers that the militarily superior
foreign troops face in the Afghan countryside, known for its
suspicion of foreigners.

The region is a known insurgent redoubt, and since Tuesday it
has been the scene of the biggest American military offensive since
2001, when the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban-led
government.

It wasn't clear if the British casualties had been involved in
the Marine operation taking place farther south in Helmand. Taliban
militants frequently use roadside bombs in their fight against
Afghan and foreign forces in the country.

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff,
called the Helmand offensive is "the first significant one" since
President Barack Obama has ordered 21,000 additional troops to
Afghanistan to try to reverse the militant gains.

"We've made some advances early. But I suspect it's going to be
tough for a while," Mullen told CBS News' "Face the Nation" on
Sunday.

The admiral described the goal of Marines' push as not just
driving out the Taliban from areas they control, but securing the
area to allow the Afghan government to operation.

"We've got to move to a point where there's security ... so
that the Afghan people can get goods and services consistently from
their government," Mullen said.

Obama's administration expects the total number of U.S. forces
there to reach 68,000 by year's end. That is double the number of
troops in Afghanistan in 2008 but still half as many as are now in
Iraq.

In the country's east, meanwhile, gunmen kidnapped 16 Afghan
mine clearers as they traveled between Paktia and Khost provinces
on Saturday, said Paktia's police chief Azizullah Wardak.

While insurgents operate in the area, Wardak could not say who
was responsible for the kidnapping. Similar incidents have happened
twice before in Paktia but were resolved successfully, he said.

Wardak criticized the demining team - part of the U.N.'s effort
to rid the country of decades of planted land mines - for going
into the area without informing the police.

Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the
world, and the increase in violence amid a thriving Taliban
insurgency has slowed clearance work. Some 50 people are killed and
maimed by mines every month.

Two-thirds of the country's mines have been cleared over the
past two decades, with the rest expected to be removed by 2013. But
experts fear Afghanistan can no longer meet that goal because of
increased fighting and a drop in international funding.

Mine clearers have increasingly been targeted and killed by
militants. Last year, insurgents shot and killed six mine clearers
in one day and two the next, according to the United Nations Mine
Action Center.

Militants often use the raw materials from the mines to make
roadside bombs and other improvised explosive devices.

Mines in Afghanistan are a legacy of decades of Soviet
occupation and subsequent civil war. Tens of thousands of mines and
unexploded ordinance still pepper the rugged country.


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